Even though our parents were trying to act like everything was normal at home, it wasn’t really possible. I mean, hello, we got robbed and the cops were acting like nothing could be done. Ugh, why even come to the scene of the crime if you were useless?
“Still fuming?” Gerald’s voice pulled me out of my seething thoughts.
“I just don’t understand, Ger. I mean, yeah, whoever was at our house didn’t leave much evidence, but if they were crazy enough to mess up our entire garden and drug our dogs, they are clearly not stable enough to be walking free. Am I right or am I right?”
“You are right, sis. Absolutely. But, honestly, there isn’t much the cops can do with so little evidence at the spot,” my brother smiled. “And it’s not like Dad can tell them ‘Oh yeah, the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company is totally involved with this because I had priceless research and the cure for cancer growing in my backyard and he stole it’ without looking like a loon. And considering how high up this Collier guy is, it would take serious evidence to make such allegations against him.”
“So, you think it’s him too, right?” I was happy to know my much more reasonable brother and I shared this opinion.
“Of course, without direct evidence, it is only a suspicion. However, with the research I’ve been doing at the library, it seems we have solid reasons to suspect Lionel Collier of wrongdoing. Actually, let’s go to the library, I’ll show you,” he suggested.
“Good thinking, it’s freezing out here,” I agreed.
At the library, Gerald called me over to the computer “Now, just one thing, alright? Our folks don’t know I’ve been doing this. They think I’ve just been applying to newspaper internships and writing. Well, technically it’s not all a lie—this is pretty much what I expect to be doing for work after I graduate.”
“So, you’re all set on investigative journalism?” I asked “I thought you were going into sports reporting.”
“That was the original idea, when I was younger. It still is a back-up plan. But all this happening made me realize that I like solving a good mystery and informing the people of its outcome. So, here’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been scouring numerous message boards for information on this company and on the Colliers. It isn’t plainly stated, but still obvious that Collier Enterprises has had some shady dealings. You just have to read between the lines. And know how to talk to information sources,” Gerald explained.
“How exactly how do you talk to these sources?” I was curious. The message just looked like a bunch of anonymous users to me. Could any of these people actually know what they were talking about?
“Well, some of these, for sure, are total nut jobs, the ones who believe that everything is literally a huge conspiracy and that we all should wear our tinfoil hats when the aliens come,” my brother laughed. “But when you search the patterns, you see that some of the posters are pretty knowledgeable. For example these three are almost certifiably long-time hackers.” He sounded so sure of this it was kind of creepy.
“Isn’t this thing you’re doing kind of dangerous? I mean, these people could be internet predators or something,” I worried.
He laughed “You sound like Katy, with her fear of all electronic devices. Chill, sis. It’s not like I’m meeting any of them in person. We just chat and exchange what we know. And from what information I’ve seen so far, our Dad is not the only one who has been left without any proof of the shady dealings. I guess you don’t rise to the top without crossing a few people.”
“So much for hard work and honesty, huh?” The posts on the message board talked about several well-known medications. Apparently, Lionel Collier and his company were responsible for stealing several big ideas but their creators never came forward with any complaints. Of course, it didn’t happen often. Most of the pharmaceutical research was legit and where it wasn’t, it seemed Collier covered his tracks well.
“I doubt he is the only one in the world doing that,” Gerald shrugged. “That’s what folks like me are for. We expose what’s happening.”
“Just promise me you’ll be careful, Ger, please.” I hoped my brother wasn’t biting off more than he could chew. But at the same time, I wanted the people responsible for my family’s misfortune to be punished and brought to justice. Perhaps Gerald would find what the evidence, after all?
My phone beeped—it was a text from Micah, asking if I wanted to hang out. I kind of wanted to stay with Gerald, but he was now done with the message boards, moving to working on his actual assignments. “I’m going to go now, alright? Take care.”
“Same, sis. I have to finish this essay for tomorrow or bust.”
Micah was waiting for me back near the diner. “Come help me make this snowman,” he called.
If there was anything good about winter, it was the fun stuff that could be done with snow. You’d freeze your arms and legs off, but those snowman and snow angels would look fantastic.
“That is one hot-looking snowman,” jokes Micah.
“Oh, yeah. It could totally land a modelling gig, just look at those curves,” I laughed. Laughing was good, it took my mind of the bad stuff and I felt less angry.
“Ha! Let’s make it look wicked then,” he put the finishing touches on the snowman, giving it horns and a mean-looking mustache. “Oh well, it’s not a girl. Still looks good.”
I rubbed my hands together. I did not dress warmly enough today and I was feeling it.
“Hey let me warm you up,” Micah pulled me into a hug. I loved it when we were so close. It was strange really—I used to think I didn’t need any romantic partners in life, but then when Micah came along, I found out how much I craved all these things, like kissing and hugging and just being close…
“Thanks, I should have dressed better for the weather. Maybe we should go inside or something?” I suggested.
“Wanna come over to my place?” he offered.
I’ve never been to Micah’s house and all I knew was that he lived with his dad. I wouldn’t mind seeing the place. “Sure, let’s go.”
It turned out Micah had the house all to himself since his dad was staying over with his new girlfriend. I wondered briefly if Micah invited me over with that fact in mind. As it turned out, I didn’t mind this train of thought at all.
“So, you’ve got a cozy place here. I kind of expected it to be more like a bachelor pad, I admit.” I looked around the house, with its cabin-like look and feel. “It’s nice.”
“Thanks. I like it here too. Our house in Bridgeport was a bit average. Dad did a good job finding this place though. It’s very comfortable.” He looked around, suddenly awkward. I guess he realized too that we had the house all to ourselves.
“So, is this the part where you make a move on me?” I asked, half-jokingly. “Isn’t that what you were hinting at a while ago?”
“I’m not sure, actually. I didn’t really expect us to have a chance to, you know…” he laughed and drifted off.
“Wow, real smooth,” I smiled.
“Well, I thought you didn’t want to sleep together,” he admitted “And I’m all cool with waiting until we’re both ready.”
“That’s pretty sweet of you. I never said I wasn’t ready though,” I smiled in a way that I hoped was seductive. In all honesty, I was kind of curious to move things forward.
“Oh…” he looked at me, somewhat falteringly, but then his more characteristic smile came back “Oh!”
We didn’t waste much time afterwards. Micah pulled me into an embrace and we didn’t pull apart for what seemed like hours. On the way to the bedroom, he made sure to bring protection, something both of us were agreed on.
We both wanted it. We were both into it. That didn’t make it any less awkward. Obviously, this was a first time for both of us. And while losing my virginity didn’t hurt as much as they said it did, I kept expecting Micah’s dad to walk back into the house at any moment. Even though I knew he was certainly gone for the night.
“I didn’t hurt you, did I? Was everything alright?” Micah worriedly asked later on. For all his flirty ways and acting like he knew his way around women like a pro, he really didn’t!
“It was fine, relax. And no, you didn’t hurt me,” I smiled.
“It was my first time,” he admitted.
“Yeah, I know. Why else would you be so worried?
“I don’t want to mess this up. So… hungry? It’s almost time for dinner anyway, I could cook something,” he offered.
“Oh, crap!” I jumped up, scrambling for my jeans and jacket “I lost track of time. My parents don’t know I’m here! I should run before they realize they should be worried.”
“Alright then, take care sweetheart,” he gave me a kiss and I was on the way home.
At home, I made sure not to act too strange. I was pretty sure that for all their acceptance of my relationship, my parents would not have been too happy to hear that I was having sex with Micah at this point. Although, I did get a few strange looks from Mom, who no doubt noticed I was nervous about something.
After our parents have gone to bed, Gerald and I ended up watching the late night football game rerun on one of the channels.
“So…” my brother ventured “You two totally hooked up, haven’t you?”
“What?!” I nearly shouted, remembering to bring my voice down, “Ok, how did you know?”
“Come on, Irene. I’m your brother, I know you pretty well by now. You’ve been sitting on needles all evening, as if afraid that Mom and Dad will realize something. What else would be that worried about?” he laughed.
“So, you’re not going to tell?” I implored Gerald.
He smiled “Why would I tell? After all, I’m sure you’d know if Katy and I did it and I doubt you’d tell.”
“Thanks, bro.” A weight fell of my shoulders.
“But he better treat you like a queen, or he’s a goner,” he solemnly promised.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. If he does something wrong by me, I’ll let him know exactly why that’s an awful idea,” I assured him.
“Ah, that’s my sister.”
Since winter kicked in, the garden was for the time being forgotten. Which was alright with me. We had enough money put away not to worry about expenses and Celeste and I were finally getting some quality time together.
The kids were upset about the theft. I could understand them—when you were young, your house felt like a safe haven and the thieves destroyed that illusion. I only hoped they wouldn’t worry for too long. Celeste and I have already installed a burglar alarm system, in case the thieves came back, although, of course, neither of us thought it would happen again.
Then the news came. Collier Enterprises was in the process of creating a new plant-based medicine, one that was already proven to effectively treat most cancers. I had to admit, I didn’t expect them to strike so soon.
“I guess it really was them, Celi,” I informed my wife. “They’re creating a new wonder medication, based on what they took from our house.”
“Are you sure we don’t have anything to prove it?” she asked.
“Pretty sure. I should have installed the anti-theft system ages ago,” I regretted.
“Well, no use crying over spilled milk, I suppose. Come on, we should go out, relax a bit. The kids are still in school and we really need to get our minds off this issue,” she offered.
Driving out to one of the bars in town, Celeste and I were planning to relax and distract ourselves from the news. Of course, that plan went down the drain when Lionel Collier ended up at Varg’s Tavern already.
“Oh, hello Mr. Meadows, fancy seeing you here,” he greeted in the same friendly way that lulled me into a sense of comfort during our meeting.
“Fancy seeing us here?!” Celeste blew up. “Is that why you paid such a wonderful visit to our house last month? Oh wait, you weren’t planning to find us home back then, were you? How dare you act like you haven’t stolen from us?!”
I knew she was pushing it and that I should calm her down, but my own anger came to surface as well “I admit I expected you would wait a while before using stolen research for your company, Lionel.”
“I will not be talked to in such a way,” Lionel Collier’s furrowed for a moment. “You didn’t want to work with my company and I respected that. And now you throw empty accusations at me? I thought better of you and your family, Simon.”
“So, it’s empty accusations, now? How do you know I don’t have the whole robbery caught on camera?” I implied.
“Well, I don’t know that implicitly, but I’m quite sure that if you had even a tiny bit of evidence from the crime that you say took place at your house, you would have sent the cops after me pronto, considering how much you seem to dislike me. But then again, if you had any evidence, you’d know I had nothing to do with this to begin with. In any case, this conversation is over. I sincerely wish the best to your family.”
With these words, Lionel Collier left and Celeste and I were looking dumbfounded at one another.
“Well, that led to nothing,” I finally released the breath I was holding.
“I don’t know, Si. He handled the situation pretty smoothly. I know I wouldn’t have remained as calm if someone was accusing me of theft,” she admitted.
“So, you think he might not be responsible for the burglary? He doesn’t act like someone who just committed a federal crime, true. But then, people like him generally don’t act guilty until the evidence against them is stacked up.” I wasn’t sure what to think.
“Well, I think he acted too calmly, as if he was expecting us to confront him.” Celeste spread her hands apart. “Honestly, is there anyone else who would have done it?”
“If we knew, we’d have the perpetrator in jail by now, wouldn’t we?” It was true. Even if Collier was the criminal here, we had zero proof of it.
I couldn’t figure out why everyone at home was so glum that evening. Our parents looked seriously sad and Mom kept banging dishes more than ever. Dad was clearly trying to distract himself with a book, but failing miserably. In the end they both went “to sleep” early, but Gerald and I could hear their muted conversation. They were really upset.
“Ger, what’s going on” on my part, I had a pretty good day. Our class was on a trip to the local museum and Micah kept goofing off so much that by the time we left I was nearly in stitches from laughter.
“You haven’t read the news today, have you?” he asked, sliding the newspaper towards me.
As soon as I saw the headline, any good mood I had evaporated.
“Wow. The bastard is not even ashamed of it, is he? And he worked pretty well too, to make sure nothing can tie him to the theft.” That explained why Mom and Dad were so upset.
“I guess we’ll never know,” Gerald grudgingly admitted. “It’s not like we can just waltz into the company and spy on their computers. Apparently, people from the message boards have tried to hack in. No luck. They have a really good system in place—only the inside people have access.”
“That fancy, huh?” I drifted off. So, theoretically, someone working at the company could access their computers and see if there was any evidence left of the theft? I mean, there was no doubt that Lionel Collier had to keep the original research that Dad did—even if he already had the plant itself. If I could get my hands on that, somehow, I would be able to prove he was responsible to the crime that took place at our house.
“Irene?” Gerald was looking at my face in a way that said he knew exactly what was going on in my head. “You know there is no way they would hire you, right? He’d be an idiot to hire the daughter of the guy he robbed.”
“He doesn’t personally do the hiring though, does he? It’s a big company, one that has all those hiring managers,” I mused. “And I doubt Lionel Collier gets personally acquainted with every new hire. Besides, not only has he never met either of us, but there are so many people with a last name like Meadows.”
“Still, I don’t like the idea of that,” my brother frowned.
“Look, I’m not saying I’m going into that company, not just yet. But if it’s an option that can work out, why not explore it?” I maintained.
From then on, I focused on ways on which I could certainly get hired by Collier enterprises. I did my research and as it turned out, the company wanted efficient, experienced employees. Of course, I was still in high school and had zero work experience. Bummer.
But then, something else happened—the local career fair took place at our school. Representatives from Collier Enterprises were present and handed out fliers about internships and volunteer programs at their company. And while a few students did express interest, an office job seemed pretty boring to most high school students.
The internship in question did require a good GPA, which to the big surprise of my classmates, I actually had. And after convincing the interviewers that I was actually really interested in business and pharmaceuticals specifically, I was the brand new Collier Enterprises intern.
Of course, Mom and Dad were not happy about this. They didn’t understand why I would want to work at that company after what happened. But I didn’t want them to know I was planning anything they would consider unsafe and Gerald had the common sense not to tell them what my real plans for employment at Collier Enterprises were. After all, he was also planning to use his future newspaper connections to dig up information of the company and didn’t want them to worry. They will understand soon enough, hopefully.
But I had my goal clear in front of me. Lionel Collier and his company screwed over my father. I will prove it, even if it would take years.